Leader Blues

Friday, February 27, 2009

SPORTS >> Jackrabbits still in hunt for repeat

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

HEBER SPRINGS – Spreading the wealth is always a good thing, especially when a state tournament berth is on the line.

That’s exactly what Lonoke did in its 74-59 opening-round win over Gosnell on Thursday night in the 4A East Regional tournament. Five players ended up in double-digit scoring, led by 15 points each by seniors Michael Howard and Clarence Harris.

With the win, the Jackrabbits, defending 4A state champs, earned a bid to the state tourney for the third consecutive year. They played Osceola last night in the tournament semifinals. The winner of that game will take on the winner of the other semis matchup between Stuttgart and Marianna-Lee on Saturday for the Regional title.

“This was the pressure game,” said Jackrabbits coach Wes Swift. “And we put five seniors in double figures. I’ve been a little bit hard on them, but they came through tonight and played pretty well. Defensively, I’m not just super happy with the way things went, but I’m very happy to get the win an to be in the state tournament again.”

The Pirates made their comeback run late in the third quarter, as they cut a 19-point Lonoke lead to 54-43 heading into the final period. Exhaustion and foul trouble got the best of them, however, as the deeper ’Rabbits extended their lead again in the fourth quarter.

Senior post Linwood Lambert proved to be the go-to guy early on. The 6-6 player, known as ‘Juicy,’ put Lonoke’s first points on the board with an inside assist from Trenton Spencer at the 7:01 mark of the first quarter, and upped the early lead to 4-0 with an assist from Lance Jackson on the ’Rabbits next trip. He ended up with six points during the opening period, 12 for the game.

“I didn’t think they would guard Juice with (post DeAntre Scott),” said Swift. “If they did, we were still going to him, because obviously, he’s their best player. If they didn’t, then Juice was going to be against a 6-1 kid. We knew if they came out man to man, that we wanted to go to him, and Juice got a couple of baskets there early and got us going.”

Howard ended up with only two points in the first quarter, but it was his pilferage and assists that did the most damage to Gosnell early. His steal and feed to Harris with 2:16 left in the first put Lonoke up 15-7, and he repeated the same feat again with the same result in the final minute for a 19-11 Jackrabbit lead.

The Pirates kept the deficit in single digits until the final two minutes of the first half, but Lonoke closed strong with an 11-4 run. Spencer hit a lay-up at the 1:58 mark to start the spree, and finished the half with another basket that followed Pierre Smith’s three-point play.

Lonoke shot over 50 percent for the game, going 30 of 53 from the floor. Gosnell was 20 of 51 shooting, and had 28 team rebounds and 23 turnovers compared to 30 boards and 10 giveaways by the Jackrabbits.

Spencer and Smith each had 11 points for Lonoke. Smith, Lambert and Howard each pulled down six rebounds, while Howard added five assists and three steals. Darius Scott finished with six points and Chad Dixon four to round out scoring for the Jackrabbits.

For Gosnell, senior post player DeAntre Scott led the way with 25 points and nine rebounds, with 21 points from guard Ethan Bryant, including 4 of 6 three-pointers.